Media Relations

Media Relations: The Next Generation

May 3, 2016by Erin Elliott

What do you imagine when you hear the term “media relations?” Hobnobbing with journalists at splashy events? Sharing the inside scoop with reporters in dark, back alley bars? Persistently calling editors and producers until they see you as the next best thing?

None of these scenarios have ever been particularly realistic, despite Hollywood’s depictions. The real deal is much less dramatic yet much more powerful: Honest-to-goodness media relations is the practice of helping the media effectively do their job. But what that looks like today is very different than it did in the days of Y2K coverage.

Consider the reality of a reporter’s world—which operates even more rapidly than the 24/7 one most of us live in. A newsroom isn’t just a fast-paced place; it’s become an autobahn of information generation.

However, those traveling this superhighway get lonelier every day. Repeated rounds of media staff cuts have slashed into the number of people available to do the work, despite the growing demand for more content. And “the work” isn’t just cranking out good, solid stories anymore but also the posts, videos, chats, Instagram photos, Vines (the list goes on…) that accompany them!

But just when reporters started to get comfortable traveling at warp speed, they hit a jarring speed bump: Now, editors and producers are asking their teams to shift from the age-old newswriting format to a style more appealing to today’s news consumers. Even Joyce Barnathan, the head of the International Center for Journalists, recently called for a new form of storytelling, stating, “We not only have to deliver news differently, we have to write it differently.”

Moreover, it’s not just Millennials who are clamoring for a new form of storytelling. We all are being bombarded with tens of thousands of messages a day and are hardwired for entertainment. That means saying “adios” to the inverted pyramid and “hola” to compelling, engaging copy that captivates the reader and places them in the story.

Sounds simple enough, right? But think about it: You remember the five Ws because your elementary school teachers drilled them into your heads. Now put yourself in reporters’ shoes. These individuals honed this skill all through college and then during each and every day of their professional careers. Clearly, turning off a switch that’s been on for decades and flipping on a new one is anything but simple.

Therein lies the next golden ticket for the PR professionals—and the businesses that employ them! While our journalism friends were mastering their signature style of communicating, we were learning how to adapt ours. As a result, our field is brimming with talented folks who are experts at drafting messages in a voice most appropriate for the business and medium at hand. And now it’s time for these pros to mount up for Media Relations: The Next Generation!

Here are some emerging ways to become a trusted resource for reporters who are frustrated by the influx of red lines on their work:

  • COLOR YOUR COPY: Infuse creative leads, metaphors and interesting twists of phrase into written pieces for media outlets (e.g., news releases, byline articles, tip sheets). Bonus points for including pop culture references that help make a point or illustrate the story. Your words may inspire the reporter or maybe, just maybe, move right into print.
  • PUT THE HUMAN IN INTEREST: A personal story is always, always, always more interesting than an abstract figure or statistic. Identify specific people (customers, employees, patients, etc.) that connect to the messages you pitch, and make sure the impact that your organization, service or product had upon their lives is clearly conveyed.
  • SHARE THE LOVE: When you can tell that your media contacts are trying fresh approaches, be sure to compliment them. A little encouragement goes a long way for anyone venturing into foreign territory.

As Barnathan wisely noted, the journalism field is at the very beginning stages of this metamorphosis. Enterprising organizations that take a fresh look at the way they interact with the media today have an extraordinary opportunity to help shape the way reporters cover the news of tomorrow.

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